PTSD soldier healthy to deploy: commander

Ian Turner completed one final Iraq deployment after initially being refused medical clearance.
Ian Turner completed one final Iraq deployment after initially being refused medical clearance.

A colonel whose intervention led to a PTSD-addled soldier completing one final traumatic mission to Iraq thought the tour was in his "best interest" despite his mental health and substance abuse struggles.

Sergeant Ian Turner took his own life in his Sydney home in July 2017 in the months following the deployment - his seventh - which was only made possible after his company commander intervened to have a refusal of medical clearance reconsidered.

During the tour Sgt Turner was subject to disciplinary proceedings over what he described as a practical joke involving a pornographic image, and demoted.

His PTSD symptoms were also triggered by an operation to recover the body of a US soldier buried in sand.

Both greatly distressed him, an inquest has heard, with his then girlfriend reporting he had become inconsolable and suicidal afterwards.

While giving evidence on Wednesday, his company commander Lieutenant Colonel AF agreed he had known any conflict deployment was "inherently potentially traumatic" and any trauma could reinvigorate or cause a remission of Sgt Turner's PTSD.

Still, he deemed it in Sgt Turner's "best interest" he be deployed. It's a view he maintains even now, he said.

But there was opposition to Sgt Turner embarking on the deployment.

The most senior soldier in the company and Lt Col AF's "principal adviser" had suggested Sgt Turner be left off the deployment, the colonel told the inquest.

He sought the required medical clearance for Sgt Turner anyway.

When it was rejected, the inquest has previously heard Lt Col AF was "intensely keen the situation be fixed" and was adamant that Sgt Turner had to deploy.

But on Wednesday the colonel said he had simply sought additional context to be provided and the decision reconsidered.

"The tone of that paragraph is very aggressive and indicates I was more invested in his deployment than I actually was," he said.

"I did think it was the wrong decision, but I thought that decision was made because I don't believe they had the appropriate context."

Sgt Turner's mental health had been getting "better and better" during 2016, his self-worth was tied to his ability to deploy and the tour would give him six months away from alcohol and his deteriorating relationships at home, he argued.

"The company deploying without him would be detrimental to his mental health, not advantageous," he said.

"I saw this as an opportunity for him ... (to) effectively reset."

However, Lt Col AF conceded he did not have an accurate understanding of the extent of Sgt Turner's psychological issues, alcohol abuse or domestic violence at the time.

He had believed the commando was in a "healthy frame" but did not "delve deeply" into his purported improvement, despite knowing Sgt Turner would likely seek to paint him a "rosy picture" to secure his deployment.

Sgt Turner's mental health was also overlooked while in Iraq, particularly following the disciplinary proceedings, counsel assisting the coroner put to Lt Col AF.

When asked if a failure to seek immediate psychiatric intervention for Sgt Turner was a very significant oversight, the colonel said he had thought Sgt Turner was "doing well".

But his then girlfriend - Corporal TJ - has said Sgt Turner was on some days inconsolable, had been caught playing with bullets and he had told her of his plan to lock himself in an armoured car and "pull the trigger".

With hindsight, Lt Col AF agreed he should have sought urgent psychiatric help for Sgt Turner.

"If I was aware then I would have taken action, and I'm disappointed that (his girlfriend) didn't tell me that."

Given two opportunities to identify things he would have changed with the benefit of hindsight, LtC AF found one fault.

"A decision to have some more of a formal psychological response with Ian (during his deployment), I probably would have taken that in hindsight. That changes."

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Australian Associated Press